Reviewed by Dr. Barb DePree, MD
Pain in any part of your vulva—the mons, outer or inner labia, the clitoris or vestibule, that cannot be attributed to any other cause, is called vulvodynia. This condition is also sometimes called vestibulodynia or vulvo-vestibular syndrome (VVS).
The area, degree, and type of pain can vary quite a bit, and while the cause can be impossible to discover, effective treatment is very possible. It's absolutely important to get care for this condition from a provider who is familiar with and experienced in treating vulvodynia.
Causes of Vulvar Pain
Vulvar pain can make any sort of sex difficult or impossible. Vulvar pain can come or go, last for a few hours or a few years. Changing hormones can bring it on, and managing hormones can quell it.
The vulva is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. VVS can occur if the vulva is traumatized by:
- Sex without arousal
- Treatments or exposure to chemicals or allergens
It can feel painful or abnormally sensitive even after the cause has been removed. Some abnormalities of the nervous system (known as dysaesthesia) can cause pain to be felt in the vulva without any direct injury, though this is rare.
Women with localized VVS have pain at the opening of the vagina. Inserting tampons is painful. Riding a bike or wearing tight jeans or just touching themselves may hurt. If nothing touches the vestibule, they may not have pain. They will use the words “burning” or “tearing” to describe the discomfort associated with penetration.
Symptoms in General
Generalized vulvodynia is pain and burning on or around the vulva most of the time, even when nothing is touching it. Women with generalized vulvodynia describe vaginal burning, stinging, rawness, and aching that can be a mild discomfort or more severe pain, preventing daily activities. Some women report an increased discharge with the pain. Urination may cause pain and burning. Prolonged sitting may hurt. A burning sensation may follow tampon removal.
There may be nothing at all to see upon examination. The vulva and vagina may look normal. That's why it is important to find a health care provider who understands the problem of vulvar pain.
Tell your doctor about any creams or lotions you have used on the vulva and what products, if any, you use to wash the area or lubricate during sex. You will need to tell the doctor if sex has been a problem at any time. Stresses in your life may be relevant as well. While treating vulvodynia, don't use any creams, lotions, or lubricants–particularly warming lubricants–without the approval of your physician.
Treatment may include topical anesthetic ointment, prescribed medications, physical therapy, or locally applied hormones. Keep working to find a solution, whether or not the cause is clear! Your symptoms are real and can be effectively treated.
Learn about the actions you could take, listed at right, to address this condition or see other conditions that could affect you.
What can you do about it?
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